I have been wanting to make a successful winter ascent of a major Cascade peak for as long as I have been climbing, but always in the past my pain issues (always worse in the winter months) limited both my fitness and motivation to get the job done. I have made half-hearted attempts on Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Bailey, and Hood. The closest I have come to making a successful ‘winter’ climb was when we got to the summit pinnacle on Three-Fingered Jack before a lack of daylight made us turn back. Still, this was in mid-November, so it wasn’t really a winter climb at all.
On Bailey and on Hood, my hip was hurting so badly that I very quickly had to turn back. On Thielsen I was out of shape — again, because such chronic, consistent pain makes it so difficult to maintain a fitness program. Until last spring, I believed that I would probably never be able to climb in winter. My pain levels were at extreme levels and I wasn’t sure for a while if I would be able to climb much more at all.
But then I started to take Tramadol, a non-narcotic pain reliever that did something that heavy doses of opiates could not: It made my pain disappear. Within an hour of taking it, the pain in my right shoulder eased for the first time in months. Several hours went by. The pain did not come back. After about six hours I felt an ache again, but I took another dose and it went away. Days passed and I kept taking Tramadol, and it continued to keep the pain away. After several pain-free weeks turned into several months pain-free, I knew that I had found a medication that really worked, and did so without making me feel intoxicated in any way.
It has been nine months since I started taking Tramadol, and I have gone through my first pain-free autumn in seventeen years. Now we are firmly into winter and I am still experiencing very little pain or discomfort. I am in better condition at this time of year for the first time in a long time. I have been going on near-daily 5-mile walks and feel pretty happy with where I am at physically. Not in top shape, but not out of shape either. In fact, I would be in much better shape except I got sick over the holidays and lost several weeks of possible conditioning.
I had called my friend Bill about a week ago and asked him if he would want to climb Hood sometime soon, and he had expressed interest. Two days ago he called me and asked if I wanted to go on the weekend of the 19th-20th. I wasn’t going to have my eldest daughter down from Eugene that weekend, so I said I would go. The weather is supposed to get a little warmer during the week, and should get a nice freeze-thaw cycle set up, perfect for winter climbing conditions. Now I just need to figure out a way to get up to Eugene and a ride back on Sunday. Somehow, the conditions will arise to make it so.
I think this could be the first successful winter ascent for me. Bill is an uber-experienced climber who has even been on the cover of Newsweek magazine, and between the two of us we should be able to get up and down the mountain safely. I have a good feeling about this one.
If I can do this, it will be a great way to start off the year.